Enjoy Kawhi Leonard while you can, Raptors

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Just before the NBA playoffs began, Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard appeared on teammate Serge Ibaka’s internet cooking show.

In case you’re not up on the latest in cuisine you can stream, Ibaka’s show, “How Hungry Are You?” tests the adventurous spirit of his guests and created a pizza with bull penis starring as the most unconventional topping imaginable.

Leonard took part, but when asked by the chef whether he was going to stay in Toronto, the forward who has been tied with a return to his native Los Angeles for a couple of years now declined to tie himself to a return to Canada.

“What type of question is that, dude?” Leonard replied. Ibaka asked it again in Spanish since he’s fluent and Leonard, having spent so much time in San Antonio, speaks it conversationally.

“We’ll see,” Leonard replied when pressed, looking more uncomfortable about what he was being asked than with what he’d eventually find out what was on the menu. “I don’t know yet. We’ll see after the season.”

I get the feeling Leonard would love to leave Toronto after winning a title. But whether it happens or not, he’ll be opening training camp later this year in California. I expect him to lead the new-look Clippers, bringing another max-salary player who wants to join forces with the NBA’s top two-way performer along for the ride.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri knew the risks involved with moving DeMar DeRozan, who would’ve been happy to spend the rest of his career toiling for the only team he’d ever known. Leonard wanted to return to L.A., which is why the Spurs ultimately opted to get what they could for their star forward after an irreparable rift developed between him and the organization over how his rehabilitation of a quad injury that Toronto has been patient with in getting him back to 100 percent.

The work the Raptors have put in has a chance to pay off since getting past the Philadelphia 76ers would equal the team’s longest run into the postseason. Although Giannis Antetokounmpo is among the game’s greats at the moment and will likely be the MVP, he’s nowhere near as polished as LeBron James, who has been the unsolvable obstacle over the past few seasons.

Ujiri bet that success would help keep Leonard with the club. But the pull of L.A. appears to be too great based on Leonard’s response to anyone looking to read the tea leaves regarding his future.

Seeing Leonard battle James for supremacy in L.A. and the Western Conference over the next few seasons will be tremendous. Considering Stephen Curry and Draymond Green figure to keep the Warriors formidable regardless of whether Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson stay put, while Houston, Denver and Portland will all remain viable contenders, so the West will remain the NBA’s more competitive conference for the foreseeable future.

Leonard will look to lead the Raptors to a first-ever East title and trip to the NBA Finals, but he’s not the emotional type who will get so wrapped up in the accomplishment as to forego his long-term goal of returning home to play in front of friends and family. The Clippers have freed up the cap room to land him and another high-profile friend and have to be considered the favorite to do so.

That won’t affect Toronto for the next few weeks, especially with Leonard playing at an extremely high level. He’s drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan with his mid-range game that has looked vastly improved from all the work he’s put in over the past few seasons despite missing so many games. Expect the Raptors to get past Philadelphia with Pascal Siakam getting healthier, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol contributing more and Leonard leading the way.

Raptors at 76ers (Thursday): For our first selection this week, take the points with the Raptors in Game 6 as they try to pull off consecutive upsets over Joel Embiid and the 76ers, likely catching a bucket. RAPTORS

Nuggets at Trail Blazers (Thursday): Our other pick for this week calls for a high-scoring affair in Game 6 of Portland-Denver, which has featured the high-side prevailing in three of the first four games in spite of Damian Lillard losing his touch from the perimeter.

The combination of Rodney Hood and Seth Curry coming off the Blazers bench has made a major difference in matching the Nuggets’ bench production with Will Barton and Malik Beasley having found the range, so you’re going to want to ride the ‘over’ in Game 6. OVER

Last week: 2-0

Season: 32-29

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About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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